A comparative study of Othello and O
‘O! Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on’ Jealousy is one of the main universal themes explored in both ‘Othello’ – a classical play wriitten four centuries ago, and ‘O’ – a modern film adaptation of the play made in 2000. Despite the differences in contexts between the two texts, the composers were able to present universal themes such as race and gender through the use of literary techniques appropriate to audiences of the time. ‘Othello’ was written in the Elizabethan era. Its characters and their language reflected much of the white European society’s views of race and gender. People of colour in England at that time were exceedingly rare. Those that there were were an unfamiliar sight, and they provoked feelings of distrust, hostility and mystery. The idea of a baptised Moor, much esteemed by the senators of Venice, would seem alien to the first audiences of this play. A quote from Coleridge on what he considered to be the attidude of the Elizabethan audience to Shakespeare using Othello as lead character: “Can we imagine him so utterly ignorant as to make a barbarous Negro plead royal birth – at a time when negroes were not known except as slaves?” However the Venetian society was known for its ability to allow anyone to rise through the ranks, which enabled Shakespeare to use Venice as the setting and the Moor as the lead. This concept would seem, to a modern audience, rather racist in its language. Before the audience is presented with Othello, Iago and Brabantio would lead them to the common, negative presumption of a black character through degrading terms and bestial imagery such as ‘the Moor’, ‘thick lips’, ‘Barbary horse’ and ‘old black ram’. When we are presented with Othello, we are able to move away from these negative views and discern for ourselves what he is really like: ‘My parts, my title and my perfect soul
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